Skip to main content

The EA Sports E3 2012 Report

EA Sports puts on great E3 demo presentations. There is a real art to this. While the Dead Space demo was too long and sort of tedious to sit through, the EAS team has this stuff down pat. It is so beneficial when they show you gameplay clips from last year’s game be it FIFA, Madden, NHL, etc. And then follow that up with the new version, showing you precisely why and how it has improved.

This was evident with NHL 13 and FIFA. Seeing the old skating model in NHL and then seeing the changes for 13…it was striking. This is the real focus it seems with NHL and the skating felt great and the inability to turn on a dime this year will fundamentally change how you play both offensively and defensively.

It sounds like a small fix but after you spend time playing it, it is very easy to see the improvements. Example: I was given the gamepad and told to race down the ice; it takes a bit longer to reach full speed in ’13 and you can also press the left stick in for what is essentially a speed burst. I got the sense that it really was a speed “burst” and not a turbo button, but I’ll need to spend more time with it. Still, at full speed I was told to cut across the net; in NHL 12 this would have been an easy maneuver, even with the puck. However, in NHL ’13 my speedy skater tried to turn, his momentum, due to his speed being what it was carried him crashing into the boards. The idea of turning while racing at full speed — it’s simply not going to happen. This will absolutely change how NHL plays — and I think for the better. There was more to the demo from additional animations, the talk of better physics, better defensive positioning, etc. but this was my big takeaway from my playtime. NHL is one of EA’s best franchises and this looked like a no-brainer purchase.

The same can be said of the FIFA 13 demo. There was again talk of new animations, better physics, more realistic moves, the sort of stuff you expect from an E3 presentation. What stood out to me was the fact that players can screw up. This has always been a sticking point with me when it comes to FIFA. I want players to make mistakes and not all behave the same as if they were playing for Arsenal. The example we saw followed a goal kick, as the ball sailed high overhead and beyond the midline, an average player raced for it. The ball went over his head and in the old game, as long as he touched it, it would stick to his foot like glue. In FIFA ’13, he may miss it outright, he may make a great play and control it or it could even go off the side of his foot and end up as a turnover. It looked natural.

Anyway, the other point I took from the demo was the smarter play from AI players — not just the opposing team but the players on your own team. Runs look smooth and no longer are stopped due to a change in position. A player won’t make a run that takes him offside, stopping momentum. It was pretty slick.

If the rest of the game works like this, and if average to low rated players play as such it will go a long way in making FIFA, already a very good game, even better. This was a very good demo, no doubt.

Next was Madden 13. Every year I hear the same thing from whoever is giving the Madden demo. Buzzwords like “Rebuilt”, “Brand new”, “From the ground up” and so on. This year was no different. The boxes were checked when talking to the game’s producer — it sounded perfect on paper. When I played the game I have to admit I didn’t see the huge difference in using the new engine. It felt like…Madden. However, there was one huge takeaway that, much like NHL ’13, could fundamentally change the way the game plays.

If you have played Madden you know this scenario:

You drop back to pass, your slot receiver runs a deep post and your split end runs a fly pattern. You throw to the receiver on the post and the millisecond you let it fly the defensive back guarding the player running the fly breaks on the ball. His back was to the play and in no way should know the ball is even in the air, let alone break on it like he’s a spider with multiple eyes. He races over to swat the ball away. Woo hoo nice play Robot Deion Sanders.

That looks to finally be fixed in Madden 13. DBs will now need to have “LOS” (line of sight) to the play before they react to it. This not only makes passing feel great but it also helps the run game as well. I played for a decent chunk and stopped and started the instant replay to make sure it was working as intended and sure enough…it was. Again there was a lot of stuff discussed in the demo from various trajectories on passes, etc. But this was my #1 takeaway from the gameplay demo. Oh, and that they retired Gus Johnson and Collinsworth (Woo!!) and replaced them with Nance and Simms.

The franchise chat I had with Josh Looman was worth the trip. Now, understand, I have no clue if this is going to work but I LOVED what Josh was selling me. It really is a radical departure from the old franchise mode, which in truth no longer exists. I could write a complete 2,000 word post on what they are trying to do here but I’ll give you the abridged version.

It’s called Connected Careers and it allows you to play as any coach or any player (online or offline) and even switch from one to the other mid career if you like. As a coach you run the team and as a player you have to do what the brass tells you. I love the fact that if you decide to play as the 2nd sting QB in Denver you are not going to play ahead of Manning just because you want to. You need to earn it. The best players play. The thing to remember is that now everything is performance based. Your abilities rise and fall based on incentives. Rush for 750 yards and you stay pretty much the same ratings wise; gash the league for 1,500 yards and watch as your ratings go up (depending on your age). So no longer will a player just blossom into a star without showing flashes of that ability. There is so much here that we’ll need to see work in practice — the draft for example. Players no longer have “potential” ratings. Poof. Gone. You scout them and you can see what the current ratings are (or at least ballpark) but the notion of a player with super high potential is a thing of the past. How will that work? I’m still fuzzy.

Players, coaches, whether controlled by you or the AI earn XP — so it’s very much like a mini-RPG. It’s potentially brilliant. (and will remind old timers of Head Coach, and if you know Josh this should come as no surprise.) But how will the AI handle that task? There is a LOT of decision making left at the feet of the AI. That scares me.

Free agency has changed from the old bidding method to a 4 or 5 week FA period. Player personality and the system a team uses will also help shape where players sign (not always for the most $$). In addition, player ratings fluctuate depending on the system in place. A great nose tackle might be rated a 90 in a 3-4 and lower if asked to play in a 4-3 scheme.

The downside: player editing is gone (within Connected Careers), NCAA draft imports are gone and custom playbooks have been shelved for the time being. This is a HUGE shift in how Madden’s off the field modes work so having every old feature wasn’t possible. As I said: I applaud this — a standing ovation applause for the balls it takes to turn things on its head like this. Will it WORK? No idea. There are pitfalls everywhere.

But man…I want to see it, pass or fail. My big concern outside of AI management …I wish I had a mouse and keyboard. There is a lot of administration to do if you choose to micromanage.

Moving on to NBA Live. The return of this franchise is long overdue and while I appreciated the enthusiasm from the presentation, the game has work to do. I am very much concerned that the game was not playable at the show, was only shown behind closed doors, is set for a Fall 2012 release and is still in “Pre-Alpha”. Again everything was checked off the feature list during the demo but until I get my hands on the game it’s hard to say much. NBA 2K remains the gold standard of the genre and EA is playing catch up. The demo was mostly feature talk with only a few clips of actual gameplay and with the release coming soon…

NCAA 13 I played for ten minutes and was late to another appointment. (I was at EA for literally 3 and a half hours). I saw that Michigan was rated an A+ overall and that was enough.

In all, a strong showing from EA Sports with NHL and FIFA looking like day one buys and Madden being the wild card. I really, really, hope that Connected Careers mode works out. It is potentially brilliant but Madden players are notorious for fearing change and hoooo doctor is this different.

The 40 Year Old E3 Journalist

E3 2012 confirmed something I have been rolling around in my head the past few shows but was afraid to confront.

I am a relic. A relic of E3’s long past. This show has simply passed me by. This struck me at an odd time; I was walking from one end of the Convention Center to the other with Todd, my intrepid colleague and friend, hobbling from one appointment to next on Thursday afternoon as neck pain shot down my arm with every step. In truth I was in no condition to tackle E3. I have an MRI scheduled for Monday and four days of walking was not ideal therapy.

I confided to Todd that there was a good chance that this would be my last E3. Was it the pain meds talking? Was it the incessant sound of Ray Lewis yelling at me from the EA booth or the marketing tool banging on his placard in the food court about how the end was near as he promoted Resident Evil 6? I do not know. But I know this.

This was a rough E3 for me.

This isn’t disillusionment. Hell I have been disillusioned with the direction of E3 since…well since there has been an E3. This was show #12 for me. I started going to E3 when it was held in Atlanta, and it has always been a dog and pony show of controlled messaging, glitzy hype, the tease of juvenile soft core porn, and the battle of who could have the loudest booth. None of that has changed, and some people love that about E3. My first show was like being let loose in an amusement park for gamers. I get it.

But there was a time when I could summarily ignore the Nintendo booth and the Sony booth and every other console driven publisher because I was at E3 to cover PC games. That was my beat from 1996 through 2005. There was an entire sub-section of E3 that allowed me to stay clear of the battle of the annoying E3 booths and focus on what I was there to cover. It was awesome. Today, as a gamer that primarily plays role-playing, strategy and sports games with a sprinkling of a specific style of shooter thrown in for good measure, (Metro, Bioshock, Borderlands, etc.) E3 is one tough gig. I care as much about the E3 press conferences, the Wii U, the Vita, and Lollipop Chainsaw as I do the upcoming season of Hillbilly Handfishin’. This isn’t “PC snobbery”, this is simply a fact. It’s just not my scene, and hell I use my 360 as much as I do the PC these days.

My pain and disdain aside, there were certainly high points: Chatting with Paradox CEO Fredrik Wester at a hotel bar about all manner of things from Crusader Kings II to how much he loves baseball. Wester is a fascinating guy: Personable, funny, and a walking quote machine. I promised I wouldn’t quote anything he said during this informal gathering that consisted of roughly six people. This was just a few people having a drink and talking games. It was a smart move on his part. Oh, the stories.

The entire THQ lineup of Metro Last Light, Company of Heroes 2, and Darksiders 2 was a throwback to the E3 I once loved. An upstairs appointment away from the noise, a team or PR people who seemed genuinely glad you stopped by, and developers who didn’t have to scream at you to demo their game. The THQ rep who I have known for years said they were unsure how the press would react to such an appointment and it is my sincere hope that every press member who had a THQ meeting showed their gratitude for being able to do their job in relative peace.

I walked into the small Darksiders 2 room, was given a gamepad and was told, “Have fun and let us know if you have questions.” If not for the certain uncomfortable outcome I would have hugged the man. So I played Darksiders 2 for about 30 uninterrupted minutes. We then sat in a small room and watched wonderful demos for Company of Heroes 2 and Metro Last Light and asked questions and at no time felt like cattle being herded out the door. These two games looked great, and Metro made Brandon jump more than once. It was being demoed on an Alienware beast PC and it looked crazy good.

This is how E3 used to be for me.

This is E3 today:

Todd and I walked to the Ubisoft appointment in South hall mid-day on Wednesday. It was loud. An Otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat doctor, and yes I had to look that up) would tell you dangerously loud. I forgot my ear plugs—a silly mistake. I have no idea if Ubisoft was showing stuff upstairs to “more important” press or not but we were down in the South hall pit with a sea of bodies bumping into one another trying to get in line to play a game or get to an appointment or if you are someone from Best Buy…just to get in the damn way. I’m sure from above it looked very much like the New York Stock Exchange in those movies when someone yells, “Sell!” and everyone wants to buy.

First it was Far Cry 3. We receive no presentation, just a pair of headphones and are told we are going to play some multiplayer. Fair enough. I love hands-on time. We spend 15 to 20 minutes shooting the enemy AI on a co-op map without much context to fill in the what’s and the why’s. I wanted to talk about the single player but it was too loud and the next group was clamoring to play. Some fellow in giant Oswald ears, obtained at the Disney booth, took the controller from my hand after I was done. Clearly it was time to move on.

Assassin’s Creed 3 was next. I love this series even though I couldn’t get into the last one. This was a hands-off demo that was driven by a developer, which is fine. I was seeing new stuff at least. We all had on headphones but this time they were networked so that when the dev spoke we heard it through the speakers. Again no problem. But it was so loud that when the Just Dance 4 booth kicked into gear all we heard was “Never Gonna Give You Up”. The developer even shook his head and said, “I never imagined I’d demo Assassin’s Creed while being Rick Rolled.”

You and me both brother.

This is not to say that the people giving the demos at the Ubi booth and Eddie our very patient and overworked PR rep didn’t do a great job—they did. Given the circumstances it was as good as could be expected but it’s simply not an ideal place for discussion. It’s like a Friday night meat market dance hall and I didn’t like that scene when I was 20…let alone 40. By the time the tour was over I just wanted some Advil. Then I watched Sam Fisher torture people for 20 minutes in the Splinter Cell: Blacklist demo.

I do have more good memories from this E3 though such as playing Borderlands 2 with Brandon for nearly 40 minutes, even though it’s hard to play a game like that under a time limit. I play Borderlands at a snail’s pace, examining every item I pick up and talking to my teammates. Here we just blasted shit for 40 minutes and tested out some powers and guns. Still, I left happy. I’m not going to complain about 40 minutes of Borderlands 2 hands-on time.

The XCOM demo was reassuring. Still, I wish I had some hands on time with it. In all, the game looks like what you’d expect from a modern take on XCOM. It’s highly cinematic, but I still see XCOM at its root. I could have done without the Sid Meier cameo.

Playing Dishonored for a half hour was also a joy—checking out the powers and taking in the wonderful art direction. I had a nasty neck pain flare up during my playtime which cut everything short. I didn’t finish the demo, but Brandon did.

Talking to Josh Looman at the EA booth about the INSANE new Madden franchise mode changes. We were in a quiet room in South hall so the noise was under control and we just talked football for a 30 minutes. I really like Josh and the radical shift in how Madden treats franchise play is his baby and I hope it works out. We always want EA to take risks and this is a big one. I love this mad scientist stuff though so I’m on board. If only NCAA 13 were doing the same.

Beating Todd 1-0 in both NHL and FIFA 13. All is right with the world.

Seeing Dark Souls on the PC and seeing firsthand how it looks better than the console version. I don’t care what anyone says about it being a port. I looked fantastic. I’ve seen the forest near Darkroot Garden enough to know that this was not the 360 edition. Unless other people saw a different area than I did I have no idea what there was to bitch about aside from the choice to use GFWL and the fact that the developer said porting to the PC wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be. SO what? It LOOKED wonderful. I saw zero framerate issues in the E3 demo. In fact I wanted to stay and watch more of it.

Leaving my Dark Souls time, I wandered over to Namco’s other game on display, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, the RPG from Level 5. I was amazed at how lovely and charming this game looked. It certainly has a kid-like JRPG tone to it, which I usually dislike, but it looks like the cutscenes from Professor Layton. It’s like playing inside a cartoon. I absolutely want to see more of this. While it was great to look at I never could find someone to talk to about the game. It was on an 8-minute timed demo in South hall with anxious people waiting in line to play it.

Finally, my final E3 appointment, at 4:00 on Thursday was with Vladimir Tortsov of Snowbird Games. I was in terrible pain at this point, I was tired, and really just wanted to leave and go eat dinner with the gang. But I promised Vladimir I’d see his game. The meeting took place in a hallway outside of the media room. Todd and I huddled around Vladimir’s laptop. People were leaving the show; young, still energetic show goers bounced down the hallway wearing Borderlands 2 t-shirts and wearing the Oswald ears, carrying tote bags filled with all manner of crazy swag. (Full disclosure: the Metro guys gave us a functioning gas mask. Seriously. It’s kind of awesome.) It was clearly closing time for E3.

Vladimir fired up the demo for Eador: Masters of the Broken World. As he spoke about the game, dropping names like Civ, Master of Magic, Europa Universalis, tabletop miniature gaming, and Heroes of Might and Magic, I sat there in an uncomfortable seat, laser beam pain shooting down my arm, hunched over a laptop in the bowels of the Convention Center with a goofy grin on my face.

If not for the certain uncomfortable outcome I would have hugged the man.